ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Texas Rangers have Cliff Lee on the mound for tonight's decisive Game 5 and that means Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has decisions to make regarding his lineup and batting order.
Does he go back to the right-handed-heavy lineup that produced one run and eight hits combined in Games 1 and 2 against Lee and C.J. Wilson? Or does he stick with some of his lefty bats that heated up in Arlington and racked up 11 runs and 23 hits against Rangers righties Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter?
Maddon used six left-handed hitters in Game 3 and seven in Game 4.
"I'm debating a couple little things quite frankly, but more than likely you're going to see a very similar lineup for us vs. a left-handed pitcher," Maddon said Monday afternoon. "I do have a lot of confidence in this group. Our record against left-handed pitching has actually been very good this year."
Just not of late, losing five in a row against southpaws. Although, the Rays take stock in having beaten Lee in all three regular-season matchups as well as having ace David Price throwing in an redemption effort against a Rangers lineup that has hit the skids.
Maddon has changed his batting order in each of the first four games. He practically made wholesale flip-flops against the Rangers' lefties and righties, strategies he's employed throughout the year, such as inserting lefties in rookie left-handed catcher John Jaso, right fielder Matt Joyce and designated hitter Dan Johnson, and even going with shortstop Reid Brignac in Game 4.
Maddon has also made key changes in the order. He dropped the struggling duo of B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena to the bottom in Game 3 to sort of create two hearts of the lineup with Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria at the top of the lineup. Pena returned to the five-hole in Game 4, while Upton stayed down. The moves paid off. Upton got key hits in Game 3 and 4 and Pena heated up.
Now the question is where will Maddon go now? We know Rocco Baldelli won't be in the lineup as the DH as he surprisingly was in Game 1. He is no longer on the playoff roster. Switch-hitter Willy Aybar will likely (1-for-5 in series) get the nod. Maddon also assured that the lefty slugger Pena will play. The usual five-hole hitter sat in Game 2 against Wilson after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Lee in the opener.
"Joe has a ton of versatility over there and he's used his lineup the way he's used it against us all year, so I don't see anything different in what he's doing," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It's just that his left-handers have been giving him some very good at-bats, and those guys do that. But he has a ton of versatility over there. He can mix and match and it doesn't really matter, and he can set that lineup where it doesn't matter what you do, they can handle it, even if they leave a lefty on our lefty."